January, 1977. MCC played an unofficial Test match against Bangladesh in Dhaka. Bangladesh got its first taste of Test cricket.
Back then football was the heart and soul of every Bangladeshi. Bangladesh did taste the beauty of Test cricket during the East Pakistan era. Teams like England, Australia, New Zealand, and West Indies played Test matches in the Bangabandhu National Stadium.
But after independence, cricket's charm was somehow devoured by the sky-high popularity of football.
Then came January 07, 1977.
Dhaka was, as usual, noisy and chaotic. Dhaka's winter was, as usual, festive. One could witness the smiley faces despite the cold weather and one could hear people talk about cricket amid the popularity of soccer.
All roads led to the Bangabandhu National Stadium.
Yousuf Rezaur Rahman, more commonly known as Yusuf Babu, and indeed Bangladesh cricket burst into the international scene on 7 January when Babu played scintillating innings of 78 against the touring MCC XI.
Winning the toss, the home side skipper Shamim Kabir decided to bat first. A few Bangladeshi batsmen got starts, but couldn't capitalize.
Shamim and Roquibul started cautiously. But a sharp inswinger from Martin Vernon disturbed Roquibul's woodwork and the rhythm of Bangladesh innings was dented.
Mainul Huq and Omar Khaled Rumi played some brilliant strokes but their presence was like an ice sculpture in the desert. At one point Bangladesh were reeling at 145 for 6.
Then came Yousuf Babu, the last-minute inclusion, a hard-hitting lower-order batsman who could bowl as well. Babu changed the course of the innings. He not only built useful partnerships with Daulatzzaman and Farook but also attacked the English pacers as well.
He played flawless innings, executed shots on the back foot with perfect balance and perfect timing. His fluent knock gave Bangladesh the much-needed confidence to fight.
He was dismissed for 78 which was the highest individual score of the match for either side.
Babu proved handy with the ball as well. He picked up 4 wickets for only 37 runs in the first innings. From an unknown fellow, Babu became an overnight sensation.
"I still believe that the innings I played on that January day 1977 has been the best in my career," Babu wrote about that special innings in his book 'Sentimental Journey'.
Babu could easily be called the 'Hero of Dhaka'. He would always find his way to perform extraordinarily in international matches in Dhaka.
In 1978, he scored 37 & 41* against a formidable Sri Lankan bowling attack where most of the other batsmen failed.
During the 1980s, he was consistently among the runs. He scored a hundred against Papua New Guinea in the ICC Trophy 1982.
Babu was the first Bangladeshi to score an international hundred. He played brilliant innings of 115 and topped the batting averages of his side in that tournament.
"Had I played with more caution during that half-hour preceding lunch and stayed unbeaten at lunch I would have had time to regroup and collect my thoughts during the lunch break and would have probably ended the innings scoring a double hundred. Had I stayed on and got more runs we would have scored over 300 runs and there was no way Papua New Guinea would have taken the day. The bronze medal would have come to Bangladesh," Babu wrote in his book.
He was scoring for fun in the South East Asian Cricket Cup in 1984. His highest innings of that tournament of 69* came against Hong Kong.
Apart from batting, Babu used to be a handy medium pacer as well. He became the unlikely hero with the ball taking 3/16 in the 1982 ICC Trophy against East Africa. He took 3/59 against Sri Lanka at Chittagong in 1978. He probably showcased his best bowling ability in the Kenya tour in 1984. Emerging as the team's most successful bowler, Babu picked up 12 wickets at an average of 17.42.
Yousuf was the role model of his era and whenever he went to the crease he brought with him a breath of fresh air and flair. His obsession with fitness was widely known.
Yousuf was involved with cricket for twenty-five years, starting from 1965, and played the game he loved at the highest level from 1977 to 1984. His illustrious cricketing career, however, came to a premature end.
Babu was surely a hero of our pre-Test days who set a high standard with his all-round performance with both ball and bat. It was rather unfortunate that his career had to be cut short and he deprived Bangladesh cricket of his services as a result of his displeasure of the team management of the Bangladesh team.